Cantabrigians with roots in the Caribbean contribute vibrancy of immigrant experience
The Caribbean Heritage Oral History Project collected interviews of nine Cambridge residents who were born in or have roots in the Caribbean, part of asking: Where is Cambridge from? Areas of ancestry included Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Trinidad (and also “from Cambridge”). Ages range from 20s to 70s, with memories of Cambridge that reach back to the 1950s and into the present, and include dancers and poets, professors and psychobiologists, city councillors and organizers of signature events.
Nicola Williams was born in Jamaica and spent her childhood there and in Brooklyn, New York. She moved to Boston the day after graduating college in upstate New York, and has lived in Cambridge for 32 years. In 1995, she founded The Williams Agency, a marketing and event planning firm. One of the main events it organizes is Cambridge Carnival, which Williams feels is a major contribution to the preservation of Caribbean culture in Cambridge.
The freedom to express who you are is “one of the American ways,” Williams said. “I think that’s what is the impetus for us to continue [celebrating Carnival]. And of course it’s about joy and culture and movement and art and all those good things, but it’s deeper than that … it gives voice to people who may not be able to, or know how to use their voices.”
Pierre Fils-Aime was born in Saint-Marc, Haiti. He first traveled to the United States as a member of Haiti’s national volleyball team, representing the Caribbean nation in a tournament at Miami Dade College in Florida. After graduating from SUNY Binghamton with a major in psychobiology, he moved to Boston to be near his sister.
“In my life, my experience as an immigrant by itself, I feel like I have a story to tell,” Fils-Aime said. “I’m not ashamed to talk about my life, and so if that can help another immigrant … to help improve the situation of other newcomers like immigrants, I’m happy to help.”
These interviews offer perspective on what it’s like to be both from Cambridge and from the Caribbean. Visitors are invited to listen to a clip or the entire interview, or read the transcripts from interviews with:
- Jean Appolon, dancer
- Marian Darlington-Hope, professor
- Pierre Fils-Aime, community coordinator
- Jean Dany Joachim, poet
- Lynette Laveau-Saxe, teacher, actor and producer
- Marie France Santiago, program director
- Elba Santiago, child care specialist
- Nicola Williams, marketing and event planning expert
- Quinton Zondervan, Cambridge city councillor
To learn more about Cambridge History, visit the Cambridge Historical Society website.
About the Cambridge Historical Society
We engage with our city to explore how the past influences the present to shape a better future. We strive to be the most relevant and responsive historical voice in Cambridge. We do that by recognizing that every person in our city knows something about Cambridge’s history, and their knowledge matters. We support people in sharing history with each other – and weaving their knowledge together – by offering them the floor, the mic, the platform. We shed light where historical perspectives are needed. We listen to our community. We live by the ideal that history belongs to everyone.
Our theme for 2021 is “How Does Cambridge Mend?” Make history with us at cambridgehistory.org.
Marieke Van Damme is executive director of the Cambridge Historical Society.